Sulphur | Fumes from hell or little-known key to health?

I have just been in Lugo, in Northern Spain, checking out the noxious sulphuric baths that make it one of Galicia’s best known natural healing centres. The Bible acknowledges fire and brimstone as forces to be reckoned with, attributing both flame and sulphur to the Devil’s realms. But it has another much more beneficial purpose, though you don’t usually hear much about sulphur in holistic health discussions (probably because the terrible stench of rotten eggs and bad drains means few of us are queueing round the block to buy up the stock of our local health food shops).

But perhaps we should be....

Sulphur works wonders for skin complaints, arthritis, breathing problems and throat and lung issues. And, most interesting of all, it is said to reduce levels of the plaque in the brain which is implicated in dementia. Just another old wives (or devil’s!) tale? Or could it be that simple?

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Lugo’s Balneario

Lugo was originally a Roman settlement, home of the renowned 6th Legion. Far from the civilisation of Rome, they built their garrison close to the thermal springs that pour out of the local hillside, also setting up a complex of baths that have been successfully healing people ever since.

Today, the Balneario (as it is called) is renowned for its sulphur treatments. It sits alongside the river, set back amongst the trees next to an ancient roman bridge that the legionnaires must have marched across daily. Inside, they have 71 simple rooms and a hefty list of options. At 50€ a night for their rooms and individual treatments for 8€, it is definitely, as our American friends might say, bang for your bucks!

I signed up for two of their signature treatments: breathing sulphur-laden fumes up my nose and deep into my lungs, and flooding sulphuric water up one nostril and down the other to unclog my sinuses and clear my brain.

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Breathe it in

The first, sitting in front of a blue and white tube that connects to the steamy waters below, was a doddle. Simple and easy. Gentle breaths in and out as a slightly stinky cloud of steam wafted up my nose. Sitting there for 10 minutes, I could feel it penetrating every airway.

One of my neighbours in the treatment room explained to me that it was ‘nothing less than a miracle’. She has bad asthma and for the past 20 years had had to suck pastilles all through the day to help herself breathe. She struggled to sleep at night and to walk for any distance. After only seven days here, breathing in the sulphur daily, she had given up her pastilles and hadn’t had an attack of any kind. Her arthritis was better and yesterday she had climbed the hillside behind and made it to the top. She was over the moon and swore she was coming back regularly, ‘to the end of her days’.

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Flush it out

The nasal flush was a different experience altogether. I don’t have sinusitis, but many of the people who sign up for this treatment do. Sinusitis is an inflammation of the mucosal lining of the nose and is a condition suffered by around 5% of adults. It can be triggered by allergies or lack of sleep and, somewhat oddly, by the prescriptions you are given to manage those symptoms.

Sinusitis blocks up your nose which forces you to breathe through your mouth, preventing normal levels of oxygen making it to your brain and leaving you with brain fog that can cloud both your day and your judgement.

Rinse the residue

If you look at a CT scan of the brain, you can clearly see the small hollow that sits above your nose and between your eyebrows, inside your brain. It should show up dark and empty, but in those of us who live in polluted cities there is a build-up where a greyish mucus can be seen. This is a residue from the toxins you breathe in from the air, inflaming the tissues of your sinuses and creating blockages of often almost unbearable pressure.

How to clear it? I have used Neti pots before, the inexpensive favourites of the Indian ashrams I frequented in my youth. These are small oddly shaped plastic pots (you can buy them in tri-yoga or on the internet) that you fill with salt water and use to flush the dust of the Indian plains out of your nose and your brain. They improve the clarity of both your breathing and your brain.

Sulphur Spring Clean

This sulphur option is very similar. Hence, here I am, sitting in front of a basin preparing to put a long plastic tube with a plastic bulb on the end of it up one of my nostrils. Then, head on the side, I release the valve, flooding my nose with sulphur water. Hey, presto! It took me a good few minutes to sort it, spluttering and choking and getting it all over the place. Finally I managed. The sulphur really stings for the first 30 seconds as it goes up your nose and into that cavity in your brain. Nasty. But I stuck it out. And once the discomfort had stopped and the water was flooding nicely out of the other nostril I stayed with it quite happily, swopping to the second nostril halfway through and leaving with a noticeably clearer head.

Boost your Brain

And washing out the parts of the brain the sulphur can reach must, in theory, link back to the main reason I came: that sulphur can reduce the plaques that cause dementia and Alzheimers. One paper suggests that plaques are only produced by the brain because your body’s sulphur levels are so low. Add in the sulphur and the plaques recede. If it was that simple.....

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Drink it down

You can drink sulphur water, too, direct from a water fountain in the Balneario. A glass a day keeps your kidneys happy and is bearable, if slightly warm and bad egg smelling. It reduces the water retention and bloating associated with poorly working kidneys and another guest mentioned he no longer had to get up repeatedly in the night to go to the bathroom. The baths also offer a range of water therapy treatments, from soaking to ease arthritis and joint pain, to jets that work on your cellulite and get your circulation going, and endless sulphur mud masks and massages. The nine days they recommend for optimal healing would pass in a flash.

What else does organic sulphur do?

Sulphur is a natural wonder worker. It reduces hypoglycaemia, and helps with PMS; fights inflammation and heals pain in joints and muscles. It increases circulation, reduces wrinkles and fine lines and strengthens nails and hair. It gets rid of migraines and reverses asthma - all by flooding the cells with oxygen and helping the body to produce essential amino acids and B12.

And apparently, (though I didn’t have the Spanish - or the guts - to enquire about this further) it also reverses erectile dysfunction. Perhaps that was why the place was packed with more men than women? Throw out the Viagra and reach for organic sulphur crystals in its place... Inexpensive holistic healing just where it’s needed!

Sulphur supplementation?

So, if you can’t get to Lugo or any of the other sulphur spas scattered around the globe, what can you do to boost your levels?

The answer is very simple. Just add organic sulphur crystals to your daily diet. (Always double check with your doctor first, because although sulphur can be taken alongside most medications with no side effects, warfarin and aspirin are contra-indicated and it is always wiser to be safe than sorry). The less the sulphur is processed, the higher the concentration in the product and the better the results for your body. Don’t buy it in powdered form, because many of the products contain anti-caking agents that make it less effective. Go for the purer crystals instead. Take one teaspoon of sulphur crystals and dissolve them in slightly warm water, drinking it down just before you eat. And, as our bodies don’t make or hold onto sulphur, it’s something that has to be repeated daily. Then sit back and watch….

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Written by health advocate Sara Davenport, founder of one of the UK's largest breast cancer charities, Breast Cancer Haven. With over twenty years' experience in holistic health, Sara's digital dose of wellness teaches you to listen to your body, tweak your lifestyle and improve your health. 

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